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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Most Southern states, especially in the Deep South, are very conservative, and tend to send people to Congress who uniformly oppose taxes. But residents apparently don’t mind continuing to pay a tax originally designed to provide benefits for Confederate veterans of the Civil War:

Despite fire-and-brimstone opposition to taxes among many in a state that still has “Heart of Dixie” on its license plates, officials never stopped collecting a property tax that once funded the Alabama Confederate Soldiers’ Home, which closed 72 years ago. The tax now pays for Confederate Memorial Park, which sits on the same 102-acre tract where elderly veterans used to stroll.

The tax once brought in millions for Confederate pensions, but lawmakers sliced up the levy and sent money elsewhere as the men and their wives died. No one has seriously challenged the continued use of the money for a memorial to the “Lost Cause,” in part because few realize it exists; one long-serving black legislator who thought the tax had been done away with said he wants to eliminate state funding for the park.

These days, 150 years after the Civil War started, officials say the old tax typically brings in more than $400,000 annually for the park, where Confederate flags flapped on a recent steamy afternoon. That’s not much compared to Alabama’s total operating budget of $1.8 billion, but it’s sufficient to give the park plenty of money to operate and even enough for investments, all at a time when other historic sites are struggling just to keep the grass cut for lack of state funding.

This serves to remind us that many conservatives don’t necessarily oppose public spending, or even taxation. What they find existentially threatening, though, are taxes that they envision going to undeserving “others,” specifically blacks. Indeed, political scientists have shown time and again that individual views that blacks are “lazy” are strongly correlated with opposition to social welfare spending, and that people tend to wrongly believe most welfare recipients are black.

That Alabama, a state where roughly a quarter of children grow up in poverty, is raising hundreds of thousands annually to remember an ill-fated campaign to preserve slavery without any kind of right-wing backlash, reminds us of the extent to which attitudes about race are intricately tied up with anti-tax sentiment. Lest we forget, opposition to healthcare reform is inextricably linked with racial resentment.

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